“Alas, Poor Lindley Murray”

August 2, 1884

Thomas Nast

“Alas, Poor Lindley Murray”

Anglo-American Relations; Education, Public Schools; Presidential Election 1884; Symbols, John Bull; U.S. Foreign Policy;

Blaine, James G.; Logan, John;

Great Britain;

J. G. B. "By jingo, I cannot do it! Take this, Logan; it comes natural to you."

This cartoon has a double purpose.  First, it criticizes the foreign policy of James G. Blaine ("J. G. B." pictured on the right), the Republican presidential nominee and former secretary of state.  Thomas Nast and other Mugwumps were concerned about what they considered to be Blaine’s aggressive views and actions in the realm of international affairs.  Blaine’s exclamation, “By jingo,” is a pun on the candidate’s nickname, “Jingo Jim,” a term highlighting his allegedly saber-rattling foreign policy.  

During the 1884 campaign, Blaine often assailed the British government in an attempt to gain the votes of Irish-Americans.  However, by Blaine’s failure to carry out his words in this cartoon, Nast indicates that the nominee’s position on the English may be part of his characteristic bluster.  In the background, the artist has sketched John Bull, the personification of Great Britain, in front of London’s Big Ben clock tower.

The cartoon also lampoons the reputation of Senator John Logan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, for butchering the English language.  His prose is an affront to Lindley Murray (1745-1826), the author of books on English grammar and spelling which were used widely in American schools during the nineteenth century.  The caption mimics Shakespeare’s Hamlet--“Alas!  Poor Yorrick!”--and thereby implicitly contrasts Logan's inarticulate expressions with the Bard's eloquence.

Nicknamed “Black Jack” or “Black Eagle” as an adult, John Logan was born in 1826 in Jackson County, Illinois.  In his youth, Logan interrupted his legal studies to serve in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) as a lieutenant.  After the war, he resumed the study of law, and practiced it for a few years before being elected to the Illinois legislature.  In 1858, Logan was elected as a Democrat to Congress, where he represented the southern Illinois district known as “Little Egypt.”  In 1860, he supported Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois for president, and was himself reelected to Congress. 

When the Civil War began, Logan joined the Union Army, first seeing action at the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).  He then returned to Illinois to become colonel in the 31st Illinois Regiment.  After the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 12-16, 1862), he was promoted to brigadier general, and following the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg (July 4, 1863), he was named a major general.  

Logan eventually became commander of the Army of the Tennessee, but was removed from that position by President Lincoln at General William Sherman’s request.  Logan believed this was due to West Point prejudice against a volunteer.  Sherman argued that Logan’s political activities took him from the field and that, although a tough fighter, Logan had expressed contempt for logistical preparations.  Despite his distinguished military record for the Union, Logan faced false rumors of Confederate sympathy for the rest of his life.  After the war, he helped found the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization, and in 1868, he sponsored Congressional recognition of Memorial Day as a national holiday. 

In 1866, Logan was reelected to Congress as a Republican, and in 1868 acted as one of the House prosecutors of impeachment charges against Andrew Johnson during the president's removal trial in the Senate.  After being reelected twice, Logan was chosen to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate in 1871.  He lost the seat in 1877 to David Davis, but gained the other Illinois Senate seat in 1879.  

A supporter of former president Ulysses S. Grant’s unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880, Logan was himself nominated as vice president on the Republican national ticket in 1884 (as this cartoon indicates).  After losing the election, Logan returned to the Senate in 1885.  In his final years, Logan wrote two military books, The Great Conspiracy:  Its Origin and History (1886) and the posthumously published The Volunteer Soldier of America, With a Memoir of the Author and Military Reminiscences from General Logan’s Private Journal (1887).  He died in Washington, D.C., on December 26, 1886.

Robert C. Kennedy

“Alas, Poor Lindley Murray”
July 23, 2024

Home | About | Contact || Access | Features 

Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to